How the #ALSIceBucketChallenge went viral

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Unless you have been living under a rock the last week, you would have seen at least 1 short clip of a famous friend or celebrity dumping a bucket of ice cold water over their head. This is not some exercise in complete futility (however, you will always find those who believe so) – people around the world have been throwing ice over their head to raise awareness and money for ALS – Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

Now let’s try and break this down – I first saw this when the Zuck (Mark Zuckerberg) took the challenge and nominated 3 more people – two of whom were Bill Gates and Sheryl Sandberg. Still people within the Silicon Valley but that video was viral genius. First, and most importantly, it was on his page which gave him the immediate audience of ~ 30 million people. And these aren’t just any 30 mill, they probably include the most influential people on the web and and in business.

Secondly, it was short and funny. True to the new image of the techie-billionaire being casual, Zuck manages to get a smile with his reaction to the bucket of ice cubes. And lastly, it gets Bill Gates into the fray – maybe an older version of what Zuck represents.

And then Bill Gates gets his geek (and snazzy video team) on to make a hilarious video that retains Zuck’s humour but brings a higher level of sophistication (Jobs would have still moaned at his lack of creativity). And it also brings in the human interaction into play where one tech billionaire is responding to the challenge of another tech billionaire.

And this thing just does not look back from here.

From a mathematical point of view, this has a great virality factor built into the campaign. The fact that every person that takes it needs to nominate or challenge 3 or 6 more people else pay $100 was pure genius. In terms of the k-factor, you’re already looking at a minimum (@ 50% conversion) of 1.5 to 3. So the minute you hit an influencer like Zuck, it hits it’s exponential curve and doesn’t look down.

Another interesting mathematical model on how long it would take for the entire world to complete the ALS Ice Bucket challenge can also be found here.

Anyways, now we’re right in the middle of the general proliferation of the ALS bucket challenge. Right from LeBron James to George W Bush to Ben Affleck to Rory McIllroy and Tiger Woods – every one is trying to milk the ice bucket challenge to be the funniest/cutest/most innovative one and ride the wave.

So what’s the point of it? How many people know what #ALS is actually about? Difficult to put a clear metric to this. Awareness is definitely up by a few notches, a more significant metric might the amount of money the ALS Foundation has been able to raise in the last 10 days. The challenge raised $ 8.6 million in one day (19th August 2014). Another metric is quite telling too: $ 31.5 million compared to $ 1.9 million during the same time last year.

I think that ought to put to rest the real impact that a campaign with zero budget – zero paid media and no celebrities directly hired or solicited can do.

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